” …

The Arcades book [Das Passagen-Werk] was never intended to be an economic history (though part of its ambition was to act as a corrective to the entire discipline of economic history). An early sketch suggests something far more like his autobiographical work, A Berlin Childhood [:] “One knew of places in ancient Greece where the way led down into the underworld. Our waking existence likewise is a land which, at certain hidden points, leads down into the underworld – a land full of inconspicuous places from which dreams arise. All day long, suspecting nothing, we pass them by, but no sooner has sleep come than we are groping our way back to lose ourselves in the dark corridors. By day, the labyrinth of urban dwelling resembles consciousness; the arcades… issue unremarked on to the streets. At night, however, under the tenebrous mass of the houses, their denser darkness protrudes like a threat, and the nocturnal pedestrian hurries past – unless, that is, we have emboldened him to turn into a narrow lane.”

Two books served Benjamin as models: Louis Aragon’s A Paris Peasant, with its affectionate tribute to the Passage de L’Opéra, and Franz Hessel’s Strolling in Berlin, which focuses on the Kaisergalerie and its power to summon up the feel of a bygone era. In his book, Benjamin would try to capture the “phantasmagoric” experience of the Parisian wandering among displays of goods, an experience still recoverable in his own day, when “arcades dot the metropolitan landscape like caves containing the fossil remains of a vanished monster: the consumer of the pre-imperial era of capitalism, the last dinosaur of Europe”.

… “

An extract from JM Coetzee’s highly engaging essay on Walter Benjamin: ‘The man who went shopping for truth’ as found at:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/jan/20/history.society as accessed 30 September 2017-09-30

 

What is an Arcade?

What is an arcade? In its classic sense, the term denotes a pedestrian passage or gallery, open at both ends and roofed in glass and iron, typically linking two parallel streets and consisting of two facing rows of shops and other commercial establishments – restaurants, cafés, hairdressers, etc. “Arcade” is the English name: in French the arcades are known as “passages”, and in German as “Passagen”.

The modern arcade was invented in Paris, and, while the concept was imitated in other cities – there are particularly fine mid-nineteenth century examples in Brussels – the Parisian arcades remain the type of the phenomenon. Benjamin quotes a passage from the Illustrated Guide to Paris, a German publication of 1852, which sums up the arcades’ essence:

“These arcades, a recent invention of industrial luxury, are glass-roofed, marble- panelled corridors extending through whole blocks of buildings, whose owners have joined together for such enterprises. Lining both sides of the corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need”.

Christopher Rollason, The Passageways of Paris: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project and Contemporary Cultural Debate in the West as found at: http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/BenjaminPassagesYatraversion.pdf  as accessed on 22 September 2017.

 

 

 

Who, or what, is a flâneur?

By Marcus D. Niski

The flâneur – or the notion of the flâneur – is a creation of the nineteenth century Parisian streets. The flâneur is, by definition, an ‘exemplary stroller’ who strolls though the streets at a pace at which observation becomes the centrepoint of his or her experience.

As Edmund White suggests in his stunningly observant account of the flâneur and the ‘paradoxes of Paris’ *, Walter Benjamin was probably one of the most acute observers of the idea of the flâneur and one of literature’s most important writers in documenting the activities of this unique Parisian creature.

For Benjamin, the flâneur ultimately, is –

“… In search of experience, not knowledge…’ [Edmund White, p47]

The flâneur is also by definition not a tourist or pedestrian eager to rapidly ‘consume’ the landscape, but one who is almost overwhelmed by the delectable possibilities of the urban landscape; so much so that he or she is not really sure where to start or where the journey will take them.

Marcus D. Niski (2011)

 * Edmund White, The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, Bloomsbury, London, 2001.

 

… In the streets of Paris, Benjamin earned a living as a journalist while hunting out concrete examples on which to field test and then synthesize cutting-edge social theories. Encouraged by fellow German expatriate author Franz Hessel, he learned how to wander Paris with a voyeuristic curiosity modeled on that of the flaneur — a detached, attentive spectator who believed in the “religious intoxication of great cities” — who passed through every line of Charles Baudelaire’s poetry, especially the groundbreaking volume Les Fleurs du Mal (1857).

– Tim Keane in ‘Walter Benjamin on How to Stop Worrying and Love Late Capitalism’ as found at: https://hyperallergic.com/390574/the-arcades-contemporary-art-and-walter-benjamin-the-jewish-museum-2017/  (July 15, 2017) accessed 19 September 2017 also published at: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/118955609/posts/390574

 

A related technique that Benjamin does not only describe but also employs is montage. Here, the idea is that by juxtaposing unlike things, a text and photographs for example, barriers between conventions are broken down, leading to a larger diffusion of categories and taxonomies. Often this effect can be achieved even without the use of different forms of media. Once again in the Arcades Project, Benjamin explains his strategy of what he calls literary montage. He writes:

Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse-these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.

Anarchist All The way Down: Walter Benjamin’s Subversion of Authority in text, Thought and Action,  James R. Martel in PARRHESIA , Number 21, 2014, 3-12.

 

 

Walter Benjamin’s One Way Street : The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Thesis

By Marcus D. Niski

“Think about Benjamin, the writer or the thinker, and he has almost always been there first, and written ahead of you…”

– Brian Hanrahan, From ‘For Future Friends of Walter Benjamin’, Los Angeles Review, July 26, 2012.

Walter Benjamin’s classic manifesto One Way Street: The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Thesis is a pure crystalline gem that summarizes Benjamin’s approach to his writing craft in a highly original, quirky, and novel way which explains some of the classic hallmarks of Benjamin’s writing be it in his descriptive, theoretical or philosophical musings on a truly kaleidoscopic range of subjects, or his film criticism, travel memoir or critical theory essays.

Benjamin revelled in the minutiae of everyday life as Susan Sontag writes in her Introduction to One Way Street –

Much of the originality of Benjamin’s arguments owes to his microscopic gaze (as his friend and disciple Theodore Adorno called it), combined with his indefatigable command over theoretical perspectives. “It was the small things that attracted him most”, writes Scholem. He loved old toys, postage stamps, picture postcards, and such playful miniaturizations of winter inside a glass globe that snows when it is shaken…

Best known for his massive unfinished opus The Arcades Project (Das Passagen-Werk), Benjamin emerged from almost complete obscurity – save those few who were familiar with his intellectual and philosophical writings – to become a true literary comet that illuminated all of those subjects which he touched upon.

Benjamin is undoubtedly one of my favourite literary writers and One Way Street undoubtedly one of my favourite ‘self-observational’ Benjamin pieces.

Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street

Post No Bills

The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses

I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next.

II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.

III. In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an etude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.

IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.

V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.

VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.

VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honour requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work.

VIII. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.

IX. Nulla dies sine linea – but there may well be weeks.

X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.

XII. Stages of composition: idea – style – writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing it you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration, style fetters the idea, writing pays off style.

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception.

From, One Way Street and Other Writings, Surkampf Verlag, Frankfurt.

Marcus D. Niski,  May 2017

 

The arcades are, certainly, a “primordial landscape of consumption”- temples of the commodity, with their seductively displayed, endlessly varied wares: “binoculars and flower seeds, screws and musical scores, makeup and stuffed vipers, fur coats and revolvers”.

Christopher Rollason in The Passageways of Paris: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project and Contemporary Cultural Debate in the West
, quoting from Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project.

 

The cafes are full

With gourmets, with smokers;

The theaters are packed

With cheerful spectators.

The arcades are swarming

With gawkers, with enthusiasts,

And pickpockets wriggle

Behind the flaneurs.

– Ennorie and Lemoine, Paris la nuit. Cited by Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project, Harvard University Press, 2002.

 

When I first read Walter Benjamin and his writings about Baudelaire, the whole notion of the flaneur was a revelation for me. That was one of the most important books of my life.

Philip Lopate